Plus, it's Manchin-proof!
One of the things that impressed us about the Trump administration — in a horrible, sick-making way, to be sure — was that for all the stumblefucked incompetence at the top, which thank Crom might have saved us from even worse catastrophe, there were some operatives in the Trump White House who knew what they were doing, which was far more terrifying than the chaos. Stephen Miller, Trump's immigration Gauleiter, was something of a master of the Dark Bureaucratic Arts, leading a crew of likeminded creeps to sift through all sorts of federal laws and regulations to find ways to restrict immigration and keep refugees out of the USA. Miller and his operatives quickly weaponized large parts of the federal bureaucracy to pursue Trump's immigration agenda.
But what if that power could be used for good, not evil? What if a president directed agencies to go through the laws and regulations to find ways to help working Americans get affordable family care, for young children and also for seniors who need home care? That's pretty much what Joe Biden is telling the federal government to do with an executive order signed today.
The EO, the White House explainers,
includes more than 50 directives to nearly every cabinet-level agency to expand access to affordable, high-quality care, and provide support for care workers and family caregivers.
The order builds on that neat idea the administration came up with earlier this year that requires companies getting funding from the CHIPS and Science Act to include plans for making affordable childcare available to their workers. Nice factory we're helping you build here, sure would be great if your employees had childcare options.
The executive order, like the CHIPS rule, aimed at finding alternative ways of increasing the availability of family care after Joe Manchin had a tantrum and declared that working families couldn't have the Build Back Better act, which included funding for child care, assistance to seniors needing home care, and universal pre-kindergarten to boot. Like similar orders that Barack Obama took on gun control — and on the evil side of the ledger, like Trump's attempts to build a border wall — the EO is intended to enact at least some of the president's agenda after Congress — or more precisely, one powerful 538th of it — blocked the more comprehensive legislation Biden had sought.
As the Washington Post explains (free guest link), shaking the administrative trees could certainly get some results:
The president’s new directive could open the door for similar rules governing a wider array of programs and spending packages, potentially including the roughly $1.2 trillion law enacted in 2021 to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections.
Specifically, the administration is ordering Cabinet departments to start with the CHIPS Act model, to
[i]dentify which of their grant programs can support child care and long-term care for individuals working on federal projects, and consider requiring applicants seeking federal job-creating funds to expand access to care for their workers.
Other parts of the order have specific action in mind, like a directive for the Department of Veterans Affairs to find ways to expand access to home care services it already offers through a program that "provides veterans with a budget to hire personal care assistance including from family members."
Another provision directs the federal government to get its own childcare act together, ordering the Office of Personnel Management to review policies for providing child care subsidies for government employees, and to look into mandating standards for how all federal agencies help pay for employees' childcare.
Other parts of the order are aimed at leveraging federal agencies to improve care providers' pay, benefits, and job security. Health and Human Services, for instance, "will take steps to increase the pay and benefits for Head Start teachers and staff," and to improve reimbursements for child care providers in HHS's Child Care & Development Block Grant program.
HHS is also being directed to take similar efforts to improve the pay and benefits for long-term care workers, which will be good for the workers and provide more consistent care for people in nursing homes or home care. The EO
directs HHS to consider issuing several regulations and guidance documents to improve the quality of home care jobs, including by leveraging Medicaid funding to ensure there are enough home care workers to provide care to seniors and people with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid, as well as build on the minimum staffing standards for nursing homes and condition a portion of Medicare payments on how well a nursing home retains workers.
And because much elder care is provided by family members, HHS is being directed to test out
a new dementia care model that will include support for respite care (short-term help to give a primary family caregiver a break) and make it easier for family caregivers to access Medicare beneficiary information and provide more support to family caregivers during the hospital discharge planning process.
The employment rights of domestic workers, a longtime concern of VP Kamala Harris, also shows up in the order, with a directive for the Labor Department to develop
a sample employment agreement so domestic child care and long-term care workers and their employers can ensure both parties better understand their rights and responsibilities.
There's only so much that an executive order can accomplish without additional funding from Congress, of course, but sometimes all that's needed to upgrade the help people get is to reduce the amount of paperwork. Another For Instance, then: Since there are roughly a half million Native American and Alaska Native kids under age 13 — about half of them younger than five — the order asks HHS to streamline the process for awarding childcare and Head Start grants to tribes so they can build early childhood facilities.
Also too, let's put the Washington Post on diaper-hauling duty for a week for saying that the prospects for passing a care agenda in Congress are slim, since "spending-weary Republicans — now in charge of the House — have intensified in their opposition to new government social safety net programs." Those poor weary House Republicans! We should definitely relieve them of their heavy burden come 2024, when Biden will run for reelection on the platform of helping families. We should point out those sad sack do-nothings at every chance, and make sure they're sent home, wearily.
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No special protections for Big Oil, sorry GOP.
As promised, Joe Biden did his first veto Monday, giving the boot to a GOP bill that would have prevented pension fund managers from considering environmental and social justice factors when they invest. The bill would have rolled back a Labor Department rule allowing such investments; that rule was itself a reversal of Donald Trump's ban on so-called "environmental, social, and corporate governance" (ESG) investing.
As we said when the bill passed in the Senate, it's pretty much a quadruple negative, since Biden vetoed a rollback of a reversal of a ban. And that's a positive!
The bill was part of what Republicans claim is an absolutely vital movement to ban "woke" investing, because if fund managers consider anything but the highest short-term gains, that's supposedly a betrayal of their fiduciary duty to investors.
In reality, of course, it's less about "wokeness" than about protecting fossil fuel companies from disinvestment. You see, kids, money is free speech when corporations are making political contributions, or lobbying Republicans to ban ESG investing. But don't you dare use your money-speech to try to make the world a better place — or even protect your investment in the longer term — by choosing to invest in green companies instead of fossil fuels, because screw your free speech money, commies.
In a Twitter video accompanying the veto, Biden explained that he was vetoing the bill because it
would risk your retirement savings by making it illegal to consider risk factors MAGA House Republicans don't like.
Your plan manager should be able to protect your hard-earned savings — whether Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene likes it or not.
Yeah, he enjoyed that.
A White House statement on the veto made similar points, albeit without singling out Greene. In the statement Biden said that retirement plan managers should have the ability to consider retirees' rate of return on investments while also being able to "make fully informed investment decisions by considering all relevant factors that might impact a prospective investment."
And here's Biden doing some jujitsu on the "freedom" caucus types, explaining that if anyone's forcing ideology on investments, it's the Republicans who want to tie the hands of investment managers:
There is extensive evidence showing that environmental, social, and governance factors can have a material impact on markets, industries, and businesses. But the Republican-led resolution would force retirement managers to ignore these relevant risk factors, disregarding the principles of free markets and jeopardizing the life savings of working families and retirees. In fact, this resolution would prevent retirement plan fiduciaries from taking into account factors, such as the physical risks of climate change and poor corporate governance, that could affect investment returns.
In response, woke Wall Street investors sang "The Internationale" while burning themselves in effigy, and then they all carpooled in a Prius motorcade to the nearest abortionplex to read banned library books to drag queens.
[Daily Beast / White House / Image: "Maurice Sendak's Wild Things protest at an oil refinery to fight climate change" generated by DreamStudio Lite AI. No idea what's going on with that center figure.]
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Or it might be fine, who can tell!
International stock markets went all kerflooey Wednesday on news that Credit Suisse, the European bank with rich chocolatey flavor, was on shaky financial ground, which shouldn't be too surprising since Switzerland has roughly 500 to 800 earthquakes annually, though they're seldom severe.
NPR reports that the problems at Credit Suisse are actually way different from the bank runs that led to the collapse of two big US banks over the weekend, and that stock markets are already bouncing back after the Swiss National Bank extended about $54 billion in credit — only in Swiss francs — to stabilize Credit Suisse. Whew! Also, we should note that Swiss franks are not made with chocolate, but are just ground up pig lips like everywhere else.
The Swiss Mess didn't involve a bunch of panicky depositors demanding their money all at once, but instead came after the bank "had already been reeling after a succession of scandals and poor decisions that several CEOs have failed to address over several years."
The lender also recently acknowledged there had been potential problems with the way it reported its financial position as recently as last year, and its shares then plunged on Wednesday after the chairman of its biggest shareholder, Saudi National Bank, said it would not increase its nearly 10% investment.
So take heart! It wasn't a sudden liquidity crisis, it was just a new development in a yearslong saga of bad management. That ought to be all kinds of reassuring to financial markets, which we gather can be completely spooked into a panic like these horses who were freaked out by a bunny rabbit.
The Washington Post explains (free gift linky) Credit Suisse's problems in a bit more detail, noting that it has been
struggling with financial losses, risk and compliance issues, as well as a high-profile data breach. In October, it disclosed that it had suffered significant customer withdrawals. In recent years it was also impacted from its relationships with the collapsed hedge fund Archegos and a failed financial firm, Greensill Capital.
Crom forbid we ever say anything good about the bone-sawing Saudi government, but we can sort of see the Saudi National Bank's point in its decision not to increase its investment in Credit Suisse. The Saudi bank's chair, Ammar Al Khudairy, was asked by Bloomberg TV if the Saudi bank was willing to shore up Credit Suisse, and he explained, nah, no can do, for reasons:
He said the Saudi stake was currently 9.8 percent and ownership over 10 percent would activate a host of higher regulatory and statutory rules. “We’re not inclined to get into a new regulatory regime,” he added.
So it wasn't just meanness, just business, and lord knows nobody likes having to do more paperwork. I think that on that much at least, we can all identify at least a little bit with the billionaire journalist-murdering Saudi regime.
Nonetheless, the Saudi announcement made international investors assume there was a bunny rabbit in their path, contributing to yesterday's market fuckbungle. There may have been no actual connection to the Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank crashes in the USA, but by golly, investors had already seen a plastic bag and they were on edge.
Well OK, fine, maybe there was a little more to it than just skittishness, since as WaPo also points out, Credit Suisse is way bigger than either American bank that flopped over, so had it actually stumbled, the effects would also have been far more serious. Happily, because it's so big and because European banks can't be deregulated willy nilly whenever Republicans are in charge of the US government,
Credit Suisse has substantially more liquid assets than SVB and is labeled a “Global Systemically Important Bank (G-SIB)” — meaning it is subject to significantly higher standards for capital, funding, liquidity and leverage requirements.
That seems like an important point somehow!
The Post also asks, "Is this as bad as the 2008 financial crisis?" and immediately answers "No," going on to point out that unlike in 2008, we don't have a zillion banks that are invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities that are losing value rapidly, so it's pretty likely that the Swiss national bank's addition of stabilizing marshmallows should keep Credit Suisse smooth and frothy. But the story adds,
However, markets can change quickly, and Credit Suisse is the first major global bank to be thrown an emergency lifeline since the 2008 financial crisis, Reuters reported.
In conclusion, everything should be fine, and both horses and world financial markets can be pretty silly sometimes.
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But it will cost money to remove them from drinking water. Is better health worth money?
The Environmental Protection Agency this week proposed standards to remove six cancer-causing chemicals from Americans' drinking water, finally taking action against a class of "forever chemicals" that are already in virtually everyone's blood, including the blood of newborn babies; thanks for that thought, New York Times.
We can hardly wait for the nice crazies at Fox News to declare that means the woke EPA is trying to deprive children of the chemical waste that has been their birthright for decades.
The chemicals, known generally as PFAS (for "per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances"), don't break down over time and have been used for a wide range of products including nonstick coatings for cookware, fire-suppressing foam, waterproofing for fabrics, and stain-resistant carpeting. They're really nice for our convenient modern life, but less so for our bodies; they've been linked to infertility, kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid problems, and immune system disorders, among other health problems.
Why yes, the chemical industry also knew back in the 1970s that the stuff was getting into our bloodstreams, but they kept making the stuff and dumping it into the environment without calling attention to the possible risks. That wasn't their department.
The shit's everywhere, but at the very least we can keep it out of our drinking water.
Grist explains why the wokesters in Joe Biden's EPA are finally taking action now:
The proposed limits would cap two common types of PFAS contamination — the chemicals PFOA and PFOS — in drinking water at just 4 parts per trillion. That’s a significant reduction from the level the EPA suggested was safe as recently as 2016, when the agency put out a health advisory that suggested 70 parts per trillion as a maximum level for those types of PFAS in drinking water. This week’s announcement signals that federal regulators’ understanding of the health impacts of exposure to these chemicals is rapidly evolving and that the EPA now appears to believe that virtually no quantity of the chemicals is safe for human consumption.
Axios, citing the US Navy, helpfully explains that a "part per trillion" works out to one drop of nasty stuff in 21 million gallons of water.
In addition to PFOA and PFOS, which are no longer manufactured but are still ubiquitous because of the whole "never breaks down" thing we mentioned, the proposed regulations will also apply to four other compounds — GenX, PFBS, PFHxS and PFNA —that are still in use. As Politico explains, the regulation will require community water agencies to monitor local water supplies for the chemicals, after which they'll
plug those results into a “hazard index” calculation. That calculation is aimed at dealing with the fact that different types of PFAS are often present in water at the same time, and scientists have found that those mixtures can be even more dangerous than just the sum of their parts.
Using that hazard index, utilities would see whether dangerous combined levels of the chemicals are present, which would require them to treat their water to reduce levels of those chemicals or switch to alternate sources.
All of this is going to be expensive; the EPA estimates that the cost of treating water for PFAS nationwide will come to $772 million annually, with annual savings of $1.2 billion from lower healthcare costs and fewer early deaths. We gotta say, we looked at that and wondered how anything this significant could cost only hundreds of millions a year, but that's what it says. Politico points out that the drinking water plant for Wilmington, North Carolina, where EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the proposed regulations,
spent $43 million on upgrades to its water treatment facilities to filter out PFAS that a chemical manufacturing plant had poured into the Cape Fear River. The plant’s managers estimate it will cost up to $5 million more annually to operate the system, adding an average of $5 per month to customers’ bills.
In a statement, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies suggested EPA is low-balling its cost calculations, arguing that if just 16 drinking water utilities had to install upgrades similar to Wilmington’s, the cost would exceed the agency’s cost estimate.
To help offset some of the costs, the EPA has $5 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that it can use to help small and economically disadvantaged communities with upgrades to drinking water plants. Regan noted, "We recognize that’s not enough for every single water utility in the country, but it’s a shot in the arm."
In addition, some of the costs of upgrades may be recouped from the polluters that spread PFAS all over in the first place. The EPA last year
"proposed designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous under the Superfund law," and the agency is exploring doing the same for other types of PFAS. That would allow EPA and other entities to force those responsible for the pollution to pay to clean it up.
The problem there is that Superfund can take years to get settlements from polluters, while the plant upgrades will need to start toot sweet once the rule is finalized. Oh yes, and about that, Politico adds, "The Defense Department, which faces potentially massive cleanup costs for its decades of contamination at more than 700 sites across the country, has stalled and weakened previous EPA efforts on PFAS."
Now all we need is for representatives of the chemical industry to convince rightwing media that since we're all already pumped full of PFAS, the regulations really mean that Biden isn't simply out to clean up our water. Maybe he'll declare all Americans Superfund sites and take us to camps to have our blood cleaned out and replaced with soy milk!
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